The Ravens gave their secondary a significant facelift this offseason that saw the additions of several new cornerbacks via free agency. These moves provide considerable, and much needed, depth at the position, but it remains unclear who the starters will be come kickoff on September 13.
Domonique Foxworth is one of the presumed favorites to start after being one of the more high-profile free agent signings of the offseason. General manager Ozzie Newsome said Foxworth was signed to replace Chris McAlister, who was released after finishing his last two seasons in Baltimore on Injured Reserve.
During the 2008 campaign, Washington* *stepped up for McAlister and played admirably. He started 12 games, registering 30 solo tackles and leading the defense with 19 deflected passes. He was the likely choice for the other starting position until Rolle was re-signed.
"Don't count [Rolle] out," said secondary coach Chuck Pagano. "He's got 12 years in. He's got a ton of experience, ton of talent, tons of speed left, and a lot of knowledge."
Rolle re-joined the team less than three weeks after being waived in March. The 32-year-old has been a four-year starter and a veteran presence with the Ravens since he signed with them as a free agent in 2005.
He recorded 22 solo tackles, three interceptions, 13 pass deflections and a forced fumble in 2008. But health problems over the last several seasons limited Rolle, who also sat out seven games in that same season (including the AFC Championship game), due to multiple injuries.
Pagano asserted that the team may not know what the starting cornerback tandem will be until the beginning of the season, or at least until training camp. Part of the issue has been the high number of injuries impeding players from getting on the field.
"They're all battling right now," he said. "They're all fighting."
Rolle has had to sit out the bulk of OTAs this offseason because of a lingering groin injury, but is expected to participate this week. Washington has also been limited with a neck injury, but saw action on Tuesday for the first time. Pagano noted it was important for him and every other injured player to get back on the field to kick the rust and sharpen the mental aspect of the game, even if they couldn't do the physical part yet.
"I'm going to do some things [this] week to get a little bit more involved," Washington affirmed. "Because this is the offseason, there isn't really a hurry to get back right now. You want to play and practice, but you have to be smart about it."
Other cornerbacks have had to take a seat with injuries as well. Recently-signed Chris Carr is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
"It's tough to sit there and watch, because you want to get out there and play, especially when you're coming to a new place," said Carr. "I want to be a part of it and help this team win, and that starts with practice. You have to get a feel for how guys are going to play around you in different coverages."
Frank Walker, who is recovering from a torn labrum, got work in during last week's OTA, but says he still can't have any collisions or play press coverage, which is frustrating.
"I'm basically out there getting beat by the receivers every day," he said.
With many of these players working to get healthy, it has opened the door for some of the guys not on the forefront to show what they can do.
Still, there will only be so many cornerback spots available on the final roster. Pagano is glad to see those guys getting the playing time though, as it has let him and the rest of the coaching staff look for certain things.
"They have to know what they're doing," he noted. "They have to come out here and show great effort and make plays. It's about making plays, knowing the defense and knowing what to do."
It's difficult for Pagano and the Ravens' coaching staff to truly gauge who the best corners are with so many on the mend. With the lot of them close to full recovery, the cornerback situation could soon become much clearer.